Itching for a Change
Itching to do something, anything different than our usual corona virus pandemic stay-at-home exercise routine of taking walks in our neighborhood or bike rides on the W&OD Trial, Bill and I decided to take Friday off from work and drive to neighboring Fauquier County to check out Sky Meadows State Park. Luck was with us and the sky was bright blue dotted by puffy white clouds, and at 82° without a drop of rain in the forecast, we had picked a perfect day for a hike.
Sky Meadows State Park
Situated on 1,860 acres just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Delaplane, Virginia, Sky Meadows State Park is an easy one-hour drive from the hustle and bustle of the Northern Virginia / DC area. With 22 miles of wide open and wooded hiking trails, hikers can choose between a variety of difficulty levels and distances. With at least one trail abutting the Appalachian Trail, visitors can extend their hike far beyond the confines of Sky Meadows.
Within moments of driving into the park, Bill and I watched a black, white, and red bird swoop past our car and immediately wondered its species. It moved so fast that we didn’t get a good look at it, but wondered if one of the little wooden houses in the row of bird houses to the right side of the road was its home.
Once we parked and liberally applied sunscreen, we walked toward the visitor center to talk to the park ranger. As we approached the little building housing the gift shop, restrooms, and visitors center, we were met by a flock of very friendly chickens clucking their greetings. It wasn’t until I noticed a gumball type machine filled with poultry feed that I realized why the chickens were so happy and hopeful.
While chatting with the park ranger we told her about the bird we’d seen as we first drove into the park. She said that it was most likely one of the many red-headed woodpeckers who call Sky Meadows home.
Starting Our Hike
With our trail guide in hand, we stopped by our car to pickup our backpacks and water before heading up the road to the trailhead. We briefly checked out the various signs before continuing on the paved trail which dead-ended at the park office. Turning left onto Boston Mill Road, we walked along the gravel road keeping an eye out for the Piedmont Overlook Trail which had been recommended by the park ranger.
Piedmont Overlook Trail
The Piedmont Overlook Trail started as a narrow dirt and gravel path which eventually turned into a wider mowed path leading straight up the hill through a meadow being grazed by Angus cattle.
We stopped at the first set of benches at Lower Piedmont Overlook to catch our breath while marveling at the beautiful countryside below.
Even though it has been years since helping herd cattle on the dairy farm, I felt right at home side-stepping cow piles as we made our way through the meadow, past Upper Piedmont Overlook, and into the forest.
Once in the forest, the trail leveled off somewhat until we came to the trailhead of the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail.
From this point the trail became more technical with roots and rocks scattered about, and even though it was narrower and slightly steep, it was still a delightful climb to the top.
A Park on top of the Mountain
Once we summited the mountain, we entered a well manicure open park through a narrow metal gate which was swinging freely. The first thing we came across was a huge rock with seven patinated brass plaques displaying names set into the stone along with a larger plaque saying, “Protectors of the Piedmont are here in spirit.” I pondered whether ashes of the deceased were spread in the area or if in spirit was simply a metaphor.
As our gaze moved passed the rock, we were treated to breathtaking views of the valley below. Three signs, placed side-by-side, provided information about the conservation and restoration of the area.
A stunning stone wall cut through the middle of the freshly cut grass running across the top of the ridge. There was a large white SUV parked on the other side of the stone wall and about eight people sat in folding canvas chairs under a large shade tree listening to an older woman giving a lecture about the many changes to the area over the years.
We walked a short distance down the hill to where huge rocks were jutting out of the ground. At first I thought the black wrought iron was a sculpture, but quickly realized it was hand railings beside stone steps set into the earth between the natural rocks.
Another plaque reading, “May the winds carry our ashes to the fields we fought to protect,” was set into the rock, answering my earlier question.
After spending a few more minutes taking pictures and enjoying the view, we turned to make our way back to the trail.
The Piedmont Environmental Council
Several of the plaques and signs in the pictures above mention the Piedmont and the Piedmont Environmental Council. The Piedmont Region is one of five geographical regions in Virginia – Sky Meadows is located within the Piedmont Region. The five regions are west to east: Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, and Tidewater.
The Piedmont Environmental Council is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1972 to protect the Piedmont Region during its rapid growth. From their website:
“Now one of the most effective community-based environmental groups in the country, PEC works with the citizens of our nine-county region to conserve land, create high-quality communities, strengthen rural economies, celebrate historic resources, protect air and water quality, build smart transportation networks, promote sustainable energy choices, restore wildlife habitat, and improve people’s access to nature.”
Stopping for Pictures
Our trek back down the mountain was much quicker and easier than the climb so we stopped several times to take pictures. I reminisced about my dad calling these thistles “mean thistles” because their blooms mature similarly to dandelions, spreading easily and turning a cleared field into a field of thistles in no time. Cattle eat around the thistle so there’s nothing short of hard work at the hand of the farmer to keep them at bay.
The cattle weren’t near the mowed trail as we’d hiked up earlier, but they were grazing right next to us as we made our way back down. I patiently waited until this beauty turned toward me to take a picture.
These hardy daisies survived being taken over by thistles or eaten by the cattle.
- • Piedmont Overlook Trail – moderate
- • Ambassador Whitehouse Trail – moderate
- • Piedmont Overlook Trail – dirt, mowed grass
- • Ambassador Whitehouse Trail – slightly technical with roots and rock on a dirt trail
- • Piedmont Overlook Trail – 1.22 miles
- • Ambassador Whitehouse Trail – 2.2 miles
Mansion Within the Park Grounds
Located within Sky Meadows State Park is Mt Bleak-Skye Farm, a national historic district. The Mount Bleak mansion (c. 1843) is a beautiful well-kept Federal style house open only by appointment.
There are 22 other houses, barns, and buildings located on the Mt Bleak-Skye Farm, some of which are open and roped off so visitors can peer inside.
Who’s a Lucky Chicken?
As I mentioned earlier, chickens rushed to greet us when we first walked up to the visitor center, but I didn’t have a quarter with me to treat them to a snack. As we walked away to start our hike, I promised the hens I’d be back to buy them some goodies in a few hours.
As promised, I got four quarters out of our car and bought my new friends four handfuls of chicken feed. Holding my hand down to their level, I opened my fingers for them to peck the grain from my palm. Feeling their beaks pecking at my hand cracked me up.
Final Thoughts on Sky Meadows State Park
With a fee of only $7 to get into the park, Sky Meadows is an easily affordable outdoor adventure. With six trails rated easy, five rated moderate, and one rated difficult, there’s something for everyone. From bird watching, to walking along side grazing cattle, to feeding chickens, those with an affection for animals will be delighted.
Bill and I had a fun day exploring at Sky Meadow State Park. Not only did we enjoy being outside on a gorgeous summer day, we enjoyed the freedom of being away from home after being mostly stuck at home since the pandemic hit in mid-March. The open air was good for our souls…
- • Have you visited any of Virginia’s State Parks?
- • If so, which were your favorites?
- • What state parks in your home state do you recommend?